I’m a graduate student in physics at Washington State University in the rolling wheat hills of the Palouse on the east side of the state. We have some of the richest soil in the country. I think it was deposited here by a flood to which ancient Indians were witness. About 8 miles from here the truly wild mountains of Idaho begin, where wild men still live. I met a fellow named Matt in the neighboring town, about my age. Matt lived in a tree house for a whole winter. Now he makes beautiful wooden bowls. He’s not crazy, not a Kaczynski. Just simple.
I’m originally from Central Virginia. I grew up around Civil War battle fields steeped in Southern anguish. I remember an old gentleman at my childhood church who’d pull me aside occasionally because I’d listen to him. He’d explain parts of the Civil War to me. It was terribly important to him, and this always gave me the impression that I was getting a partial view.
In Virginia I saw lots of farm life. I grew up around Mennonites who had rejected modern farming technologies to differing degrees and for various reasons. I worked one day a week on the Showalter farm when I homeschooled 6th grade. There wasn’t much technology they rejected. I watched as Eddy, their boy my age, cleaned cow teets with iodine and singed hairs off their utters with a blowtorch. He’d kill already dying chickens by ringing their necks in a circle. I never got used to this. But I still love the smell of cow shit.
I moved to TX for college. I wanted to get out from under my parents’ wings, and I calculated their wings stretched no further than the Mississippi. I lived in Abilene for four years, 2002-2006. To me it was a place of first deep friendships. I remember Spring thunderstorms that would make me sit down on my porch with my room mates in silence. I found good mentors. I had a professor, Harris, who told me, “hold it lightly, Brett, hold it lightly,” because I’ve always worried about a lot of things. I learned to smoke cigarettes in Abilene. I got arrested in Abilene. I had another professor, Cullum, who described examples of art and rhetoric with the terms ‘thick’ and ‘thin’. I still think about what that means.
At the end of school I escaped to Colorado to work as a bicycle mechanic and to rewick my candle. I was a little burned out with physics and academia and Christianity. I lived in Colorado Springs, the heart of Evangelical America. I pretty much lost my corporate faith there. I just peeled out from church. Those were wonderful years. More dear friends, and lots of time on the mountains. I tried my hand at substitute teaching, and God help me I cried myself to sleep more than once. At the end of three years in CO I rode my bicycle across the country and read Thomas Merton’s autobiography. I found myself on that ride slowly coming home to God. More specifically to the church, this flawed group of Christ followers who love me and to whom I belong. In Pullman for the last 3 years I’ve been continuing that homeward journey. I have an interesting Christian family at St James Episcopal Church.
I have a plot at our community garden downtown. I ride out on one and two night bike tours occasionally. I work on my research year-round and will continue until probably 2014. I eventually want to teach. College, if they’ll let me. I like to take in stories, poems, God’s good earth. I like to be careful about my use of technology, my reading of the Scriptures, the way I eat, and my practice of science.
In a space ship on its way to Mars I would ask for something by Tolstoy to read, his characters are so human they teach me to love. I’d ask for something from Dylan in the 70s to listen to, his singing gives me strength. Among a few others, I would also ask for these friends with whom I share the Corner Booth.